Scottish tall case clock – who was Wm. McLachlan of Newton Stewart?

Since winning this tall-case clock at auction in the spring of 2020 I have been intrigued about its origin. The information provided at the time was that it was made in Scotland or England in or around the mid-1800s but it could not have been made after 1852 as I will explain later.

Its features suggest the mid-1800s although there is nothing on the clock that tells me anything about the exact year it was made.

It is a classic Scottish design from the era. It is fairly nondescript and lacks the fine craftsmanship of other tall-case clocks of the period but it has attractive lines.

It has an English rack and snail bell strike movement. The removable bonnet is 23 inches at its widest point, the waist is 15 3/4 inches wide and the base is 20 inches wide. The bonnet has tapered columns on either side. The dial access door which covers the entire bonnet swings to the right. The solid wood access door on the waist measures 9 X 24. The weights are 10 and 11 pounds as one would expect.

To appreciate the size of the clock at almost 90 inches, it just about reaches our 8-foot ceiling.

The day it was brought home

On the dial is the name Wm McLachlan, and the town, Newton Stewart. William (Wm) McLachlan is a clockmaker. In his book, Clockmakers & Watchmakers of Scotland 1453 to 1900 David Whyte lists McLachlan, William, clock & watchmaker in Newton-Stewart, Wigtownshire as a business advertised for sale on 25 May 1852, with no reason why it was offered for sale and nothing more about his life.

Newton-Stewart is a former town in the historic county of Wigtownshire in Dumfries and Galloway, southwest Scotland.

Perhaps rather than a clockmaker per se, McLachlan was an assembler/retailer and sourced cases, dials, and movements for his customers according to their wishes. Rather than build a clock from the ground up in his own shop, it was more cost-effective, even in the mid-1800s, to locate parts from various sources.

For example, the dial, hands, and movement were made in Birmingham, England and the case was very likely locally made by a joiner or wood craftsman. It is also quite possible that the painted dial originated in Birmingham as Birmingham was well-known at the time for its dial painters.

The clockmaker then assembled the parts, completed the final finishing, added finials, lock and knobs, weights, and pendulum, fine-tuned the movement, and placed his name and the location of the town on the dial.

What does the shepherd and sheep theme on the dial mean? The clock was presumably made for a well-to-do Scottish sheep farmer. I can only imagine the magnificent striking sound of this clock in a farmers’ home during the 1850s or so and the stories it could tell.

The tombstone of William McLachlan, (appears to be a more modern one erected by family?)

More about McLachlan

William McLachlan was born in 1799 in Penninghame, Wigtownshire, Scotland, and presumably operated a clockmaking business or clock shop in Newton Stewart in his thirties and forties, and finally while in his early fifties sold his business in 1852.

I had assumed that he either retired in the Newton Stewart area or passed away prior to the sale date but I have recently discovered that he emigrated to the USA prior to 1861. His tombstone is located in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. He was 77 when he passed away on December 8th, 1876 and his wife Mary Crichton died in 1891 at age 84.

Scottish tall case clock
Scottish tall case clock restored and on display in my home

McLachlan’s wife was 7 years younger so let us assume they married when he was in his late twenties and she in her late teens or early twenties. Could he have been operating a business at that time? Did they have children? If so, why was the business not carried on by a son? And why the newer tombstone? Family, sons, daughters?

According to Scottish birth records McLachlan was living in Penninghame, Scotland in 1841. A William McLachlan from the same area is listed in the 1851 census but at 57 years old (an error perhaps?) and I cannot find a William McLachlan (who would have been 62) in the 1861 Scottish census. Did he and his wife leave for the USA sometime during the 10-year period between 1851 and 1861?

Whether he carried on clockmaking in the USA after his arrival is a mystery. If he did, there may be American sources I can explore further.

Many tall case clocks came over the ocean from Scotland and England but how this particular clock made its way to Canada is also a mystery.

Free records databases have their limitations and I am not willing to pay for a subscription for what might lead to a dead end but I will continue to do a little more digging and we’ll see what I can unearth.


2 thoughts on “Scottish tall case clock – who was Wm. McLachlan of Newton Stewart?

    1. There is another article coming wherein I use ChatGPT to research the background of my Scottish clock and the results are quite interesting.


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